The Indiana Pacers were one game away from what could have been their 2nd NBA Finals appearance in franchise history last season. However, the defending and eventual champions Miami Heat were simply too much and frustrated the Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Despite having young and talented stars such as Paul George and Roy Hibbert, the Pacers didn’t have much bench depth to go all the way.
In a way, Indiana is the epitome of a small market team with little money to spare in a league filled with cash rich teams. Since the franchise entered the NBA from the defunct ABA in 1976, the Pacers have only reached the NBA Finals once in 2000 on the back of Reggie Miller and a bunch of role players. After that peak, the team started to decline and reached a low when several of their players were given hefty suspensions after a brawl in Detroit and were charged for assault and battery. From 2006 to 2010, the Pacers failed to make it to the playoffs as the team started to rebuild.
Through good draft picks and trades, the Pacers have returned to contention without going near the luxury tax threshold.
The Pacers already have a core built around young All-Star Paul George (17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.1 assists) who was recognized as the Most Improved Player and named to the All-NBA Third Team and All-Defensive Second Team last season. His emergence has been impressive and his size (listed at 6-8) and versatility to play well on both ends of the court has made him a franchise player. 7-2 center Roy Hibbert has shown that he can dominate the game with his size and talent. This summer, the monster center is working out with Tim Duncan to further improve his game.
The balanced Pacers line-up is rounded out with young turks George Hill and Lance Stephenson and veteran forward David West.
While the Heat are still tops in the East, the Pacers have shown that they can compete with the best of them and have used the offseason to correct their most glaring weakness—a lack of bench players.
Getting more players to support his starting unit was the first order of business by living legend Larry Bird when he returned last June as the President of Basketball Operations after a one year hiatus. Bird is hell bent on finishing what he started after forming this team over the past few years.
Bird immediately unloaded some players and reformed his bench. He acquired Chris Copeland from New York who can stretch defenses with his shooting while being a dribble drive threat. Another addition was veteran Luis Scola who now bolsters an already formidable front court. Another great pick-up was combo guard C.J. Watson who is more efficient along all stats against former back-up point guard D.J. Augustin
It must be noted that the high-scoring Danny Granger is coming back after a knee injury that limited him to only 5 games last season. At 30 years, Granger may no longer return to his old form after such an injury but having him starting or on the bench will be a big boost for the Pacers.
The Pacers are locked and loaded and should give fits to other top teams in the East.